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Interview: Klaus-Dieter John, founding director, Diospi Suyana Hospital

03 October 2014

'From my earliest childhood, we learnt to work very hard'

As a teenager, I devoured books by Dr Paul Brand. This Australian doctor served for two years in Africa. Afterwards, he published many books about "the jungle doctor", targeting a young readership.

Ever since my wife, Tina, and I met in high school 37 years ago, we wanted to spend our entire life as doctors in a third-world country.

Diospi Suyana means "We trust in God" in the Quechua language. Our book I Have Seen God  is the story of how we founded a modern hospital in the Andes.

I'm a general surgeon. I was trained in Germany, England, and America. My final year as a student I finished at Harvard University, and from 1991 until 1993 I was a surgical resident at Yale. Martina is a paediatrician and runs the hospital while I am away, because I am travelling six months of the year. She doesn't help me - I help her. She works a 70-to-80 hour week, and takes night calls and does all the emails at night.

In 1991, my wife and I visited Peru as backpackers. We saw the great medical needs among the Quechua people, and decided to do something about it.

God has become visible to us and many others as we realised this vision, and many people and companies contributed. The hospital depends on regular donations, because the patients pay only 20 per cent of the annual budget.

The Diospi Suyana Hospital is comparable to a hospital in the UK. It is fully equipped with four operating theatres, a five-bed ICU, 16 consulting rooms, a dental and eye clinic, an endoscopy suite, and a physiotherapy department. The X-ray unit also has a brand new CT scanner. The Peruvian President, Ollanta Humala, declared: "It is the best hospital in the south of Peru," after his recent visit to us. In the ten years of its existence it has treated 125,000 patients.

I don't practise as a surgeon, now that I am the medical director - though I run the gastroscopies and colonoscopies when I am there. My vision has broadened, because I reach so many people with the story. I sometimes miss surgery: when I was working in Ecuador for five years, I loved doing C-sections and hysterectomies. I was passionate about it. But now I'm much more productive: through the hospital we can reach thousands of patients, but 20 million people in Germany alone have heard the story.

Diospi Suyana is probably the most modern mission hospital in the world, but the story has become even more important. We can share it with anybody. For instance, last year, I was invited to give an international lecture in paediatric surgery which was attended by Muslims, Jews - and atheists, of course. God has written a script that is so beautiful that many doctors have said to me: "I used to be an atheist, but don't know how God did this." Many have become committed Christians.

The story comes directly out of my heart - it's my life. All my life I was leading youth groups and talking to schools; so I'm used to telling it. I always thought that faith in God is the best thing there is on this globe; so I prayed that I would write it down well.

Faith in God has never been easy for me. For many years, I was hoping to see God in action in my life. Over the past 20 years, many miracles have happened that even atheists can't explain. I speak at companies and churches, talk to the media. Since 2004, I am on the road six months every year. So far, I have given approximately 1900 talks in 19 different countries. I don't ask for money, just share the story. People think about God, and because many people join us, companies decide to help us, and we are spreading the gospel to people who never go to church.

The first 30 missionaries in 2007 were Germans, with two exceptions, but now we have 55 from 12 different countries. We speak Spanish at the hospital. Because of Christ, in our team it's quite peaceful. We have formed many friendships, telling the world God is real.

We've had two British medical students from Cardiff and Hull, and I've just been to give presentations at their churches. I hope we get more doctors, nurses, teachers, administrators. We have just opened a modern school. I also met Professor [Sir Eldryd] Parry, whom we met 31 years ago in Ghana. He was very important in our lives. We were so shocked by what we saw in Ghana - such disrespect for human life - that we were about to abandon our vision. But we stayed a night with him, and were so moved by him that we realised we had to become missionaries, no matter what. He's 84 now, still active, still coaching young people.

I will come again next March to speak at Spring Harvest, I hope, and would be willing to speak in churches and schools; and people can invite their friends. We are always looking for people in many professions to join us.

Ideally, they would come for their whole life. But they mostly come for three years, with six months at language school first if they need to learn Spanish. My wife and I want to be there till we die. It never occurs to us to go back to Europe.

We have three children, born on three continents: Natalie was born in South Africa, Dominik in Germany, Florian in Ecuador. Home for them is Mum and Dad. Natalie is volunteering in a Christian orphanage in South Africa and will study medicine; Dominik is thinking about medicine; and Florian wants to be a multimillionaire.

There is a secret to my energy. I was brought up in a Baptist church, but I had lots of friends who were atheists, and we had endless discussions. Is faith real or just wishful thinking? Later in life, I was afraid of dying. Headache - brain tumour? Spot on my skin - cancer? I was desperate to find out if there was life after death. Now, God has become visible in my life. It's good news, and God gives me energy.

I am the fourth child of a baker in Wiesbaden. My parents were committed Christians. From my earliest childhood on, we learnt to work very hard.

I like to play chess, and to go running.

My wife's voice is my favourite sound. Her voice most attracted to me to her.

I pray that I will do the will of God.

We have very few holidays. I always like to be where my wife is: I love to come back to Peru with her, but, if she is in Germany, I love to be with her there. I haven't seen my wife for five years, when you add up all the time I was away. If I was locked in a church, I would choose her to be my companion.

Dr Klaus-Dieter John was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.  I Have Seen God is published by Monarch/LionHudson at £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10).  www.diospi-suyana.de

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